How to pronounce A. Igoni Barrett: Ig-oh-nee
A. Igoni Barrett was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is a winner of the 2005 BBC World Service short-story competition, and recipient of a Chinua Achebe Center Fellowship, a Norman Mailer Center Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency. He lives in Nigeria.
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Can you tell me a bit about the culture of English literature in contemporary Nigeria, as you've experienced it? I know you've been quite active in the community with events like the BookJam reading series and the Nine Writers, Four Cities tour.
Though Nigeria has about 500 indigenous languages, the official language is English. Ninety-nine percent of the most popular books in Nigeria by Nigerian authors are written in English. There is a smattering of local literature in indigenous languages, especially in the languages of the largest ethnic groups. Yoruba newspapers and plays have a market in western Nigeria, and I've heard that popular novels in Hausa have a wide readership in the north. Pidgin English is the closest we have in Nigeria to a national language, so to speak, but it is not formalized or studied with any seriousness by Nigerian academics, nor given the structure any language must have to survive in written form. As a result of this neglect, the number of books written in pidgin that I know of can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And so Nigerians are taught in English in the school system, and even those Nigerians who think best in their own languages or feel most at ease speaking pidgin must...
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